As biology would have it, to be a father you must become a father so it is interesting to note that when Isaiah speaks of “the child” who is to be born in Isaiah 9:6 His name includes the phrase “Everlasting Father”. How is it possible that a child can be both “son” and “father”?! A deeper look into the Biblical understanding of fathers is helpful. While our modern definition of fatherhood is primarily physical and genetic, in Bible times it was much broader and included all levels of society. The first level was the single family unit which also included extended family and servants if there were any. The second level concerned not only the family unit but the clan and tribe to which they belonged. The third level included all of the above as well as the nation of Israel itself with the king representing the father figure and all members of society being “the family”. Unlike modern definitions of society, these tiers were not rigid. They were fluid and often overlapped.
The “father” (in Hebrew ahv) on all these levels was charged with providing for his family, both physically and spiritually. But the most important concept in Biblical fatherhood was the idea of origin and possession. As the father, the individual was responsible (so to speak) for starting the family line. And possession was not some materialistic form of ownership or an obsessive dominance over someone (as we might interpret the word), but more in line with perpetuating a legacy- that the family name was carried on and remembered from generation to generation. From that perspective the term “father” could be used of grandfathers and more remote ancestors (Gen. 32:9; 1 Ki. 15:11; Mt. 1:1-16) which has often caused confusion in deciphering some of the family trees listed in the Bible. This definition also applies to non-biological people. One author noted that “Even in NT times, Jews referred to Abraham and David, their most renowned ancestors, as ‘father’ (Mk. 11:10; Jn. 8:39)” even though they may not have been a direct descendent of either.
The second concept in this title involves the Hebrew word “ahd”. It too is a noun (like ahv) but in English it is typically translated as an adjective (usually eternal or everlasting). However in the Hebrew when these two nouns are placed side by side it emphasizes the idea of origin and possession. Therefore, the “Ahd Ahv” is literally the “Father Who Owns and Originated Eternity”. While we can see the Biblical concept of fatherhood on all levels of the cultures therein, they are merely earthly representations of Israel’s supreme Father. He is not merely their Provider. They owe their very being to Him (Ps. 95:6; Mal. 2:10). It stands to reason then that this title, Ahd Ahv, must be applied to a Son who has the same attributes of origin and possession as His Father (Heb. 1:1-4). Scripture is clear in testifying to the eternal nature of Christ (Mt. 18:8; Jn. 1:30; 8:58; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 7:25; 13:8; 1 Jn. 5:20; Rev. 1:8; 4:9-10; 10:6), and Colossians 1:18-19 proclaims He is both head of the Church and the fullness of God incarnate.
There is a commercial currently airing which shows a series of gift-wrapping challenged people attempting to wrap awkwardly shaped presents (like a football) and failing miserably. One scene shows a lovely piece of wrapping paper that is too small for the box to be wrapped but the person who holds it still tries to make it fit, turning both box and paper to and fro until they give up with a look of exasperation. I smile every time I think about it. I’ve been there! Thankfully when the Everlasting Father decided to wrap Himself in human flesh (Jn. 1:14; Gal. 4:4-5) to become the Savior of the world (Lk. 1:8-12), He fit. As amazing and inconceivable as it sounds, He left His glory behind in Heaven for a short period of time (Phil. 2:5-8) so that He could be the complete and perfect Sacrifice which the Law required (Heb. 2:17; 1 Jn. 2:2; 4:10). When we think of something eternal we do not think of a baby! Babies grow up (and most moms are eternally grateful for that!). Jesus as God’s Son was able to conquer sin and death for all time because He was eternal (Heb. 9:24-26). He was able to take on our sin and represent us because He was flesh and bone just as we are (Heb. 1:14-17). This is wonder-full news! And like Mary (Lk. 2:18) I pray it will be something that you treasure and ponder in your heart this Christmas season.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 12/18/2016